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Agencies distance themselves from “Pedestrian Safety Trials” PSA as outrage grows


Still from video, which was filmed at the Woodburn Dragstrip.

A public service ad video and safety campaign released yesterday has been met with a strong negative reaction and agencies involved in its creation want to minimize their assocation with it.

It started just hours after we published a story about the “Look First. Walk Second” campaign. The Portland Bureau of Transportation appears to have asked 3 Thirds, the Portland-based marketing agency that created the campaign, to remove all references to them from the website. When LookFirstWalkSecond.com first went live a PBOT webpage about walking safety was linked to from the bottom of every page. But later in the day those links were gone.

Asked to confirm this, PBOT Communications Director John Brady offered this statement:

“Representative Reardon [Jeff Reardon, the Oregon House representative that inspired the project] has been a very strong supporter of Vision Zero and he asked us if we would help fund the Clackamas Community College’s public service announcement. The PSA represents the vision of Clackamas Community College and the filmmakers. As just a funder, we wanted to step back and not play a central role in the campaign. We’re very grateful for Representative Reardon’s support for traffic safety.”

Here’s Facebook post from Clackamas County:

“Clackamas County did not release the video. It was provided to us. Commissioners had no role in the production of the video.”
— Tim Heider, Clackamas County Commission public affairs manager

Despite being “just a funder” (I’ve confirmed with Brady that the City of Portland spent $12,000 on the project) PBOT was listed as a partner on the project and is also listed as “Prod” — short for producer — on a still image on the campaign website.

After we published Brady’s statement, he was contacted by Lori Hall, a public information officer with Clackamas Community College (CCC). Brady then followed-up with BikePortland to say his initial statement overstated the role of Clackamas Community College. As stated on the website, CCC students were only, “placed… alongside the crew during the shoot for a hands-on learning opportunity.” Hall then emailed us to make sure we updated Brady’s statement. “The quote still states that this is a CCC video, which it is not,” Hall said, “We would like that line removed, please.”

I’ve since asked Brady from PBOT why they waited until yesterday to request removal of their link from the campaign website and whether or not PBOT endorses the content of the campaign (it seems very odd that a government agency would not want credit for something they funded). We have yet to hear back.*

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The video shows a reckless driver squeal their tires and run a red light prior to running over a “drunk guy” who is legally occupying a marked crosswalk.

CCC is listed as a “presenter” of the campaign in the video credits. I asked Hall whether the college endorses its contents and have yet to hear back.

Clackamas County launched the campaign with three tweets in the past two days that included the video. They also posted the video to their Facebook page with the message, “We are promoting the importance of being a safe pedestrian. Every time you cross a street, you are entering yourself into a pedestrian safety trial.” Clackamas County is also listed as one of the campaigns presenters. We reached out to County Chair Jim Bernard to ask if he’d like to comment about the negative reactions to the video and whether or not Clackamas County endorses the campaign. Bernard was unavailable but the County’s Public Affairs Manager Tim Heider gave us this statement, which he said he was authorized by Chair Bernard:

“Clackamas County and others such as the City of Portland, contributed funding to this PSA. The video was independently produced and Clackamas County had no creative control over the project. We supported the video to show our commitment to Representative Reardon’s campaign to make our roadways and our crosswalks safer which is a message on which we can all agree.”

Heider also added one “important clarification”: “Clackamas County did not release the video,” he wrote, “It was provided to us. Commissioners had no role in the production of the video and were credited – as were other parties – for providing support.”

I asked Heider whether or not the County Commission endorses the content of the campaign and have yet to hear back.

“This video shows extreme insensitivity to the thousands of people walking or rolling who were hit by drivers even in their right of way.”
— Kristi Finney-Dunn, Oregon/SW Washington Families for Safe Streets

I’ve also reached out to the 3 Thirds marketing agency and to Represenative Jeff Reardon’s office for comment and haven’t heard from them.

Portland comedian Ted Douglass (who plays one of the sportscasters in the video) is listed as the writer of the campaign copy. I’ve asked him for comment but have yet to hear back.

Meanwhile, advocates and people who care about road safety are emailing and calling Reardon’s office to express their disapproval.

Kristi Finney-Dunn, a volunteer with Oregon/SW Washington Families for Safe Streets whose son Dustin Finney was killed by a drunk driver in 2011 while he biked on SE Division, said in a BikePortland comment that the campaign made her “livid”. “This video shows extreme insensitivity to the thousands of people walking or rolling who were hit by drivers even in their right of way,” she wrote. “Our loved ones are already lambasted unmercifully and the promotion and justification of this attitude in this way by people and governments who should know better makes me livid.”

In an email to Rep. Reardon, Portland resident Michael Andersen wrote: “Instead of reinforcing the norm that people who dare to travel their community on foot should be everywhere and always frightened for their lives, these thousands of tax dollars might have been better spent undermining the norm that it is okay to risk the lives of others because you want to get to the next red light several seconds sooner… What an embarrassment.”

Portland resident Alan Kessler wrote Rep. Reardon to say he’s, “Angry and sickened by the victim-shaming website you released today.”

The creators of this video and campaign did not consult Oregon’s walking advocacy group Oregon Walks. That group’s executive director, Noel Mickelberry, said it “completely misrepresents” the issue. In an email to BikePortland she wrote, “It shows completely legal behavior by pedestrians, and reckless driving – it shows the walk sign go ‘on’, and the ‘drunk guy’ in a perfectly legal position in the crosswalk when the car comes roaring through. It might get people’s attention, but doesn’t do anything to tackle the two largest contributors to pedestrian deaths: drunk driving, and speed. Pretty disappointing use of funds, when professional videography could go a long way in creating meaningful communication efforts around Vision Zero.”

*UPDATE, 11:27am: I heard back from PBOT Communications Director John Brady. He says they requested to be removed from the website yesterday because that’s when the site when live (which means PBOT wasn’t shown the site prior to launch). As for whether or not PBOT endorses the content of the campaign, Brady declined to give a straight answer. “I’d point to what we said yesterday. We participated as a funder and our participation doesn’t go beyond that.”

UPDATE, 12:34pm: Roger Averbeck, Co-chair of the City of Portland’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the PAC’s rep on the City’s Vision Zero Task Force, says the video is not aligned with Vision Zero goals:

“In my opinion the video obviously promotes stereotypes; leans heavily to victim blaming; is very insensitive to vulnerable road users, especially to families of victims of pedestrian crashes; and does not adequately address vehicle driver responsibility. Instead, it seems to accept illegal driver behavior as the norm that vulnerable road users must protect themselves from by solely changing pedestrian behavior. This is an unacceptable solution; promotes the “us vs them” narrative; and is not at all in alignment with Portland’s Vision Zero Plan.”

UPDATE, 8/15 at 2:30 pm: Reardon will pull down the campaign.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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